Scott Deitche discusses mob activities in Tampa with the Largo Area Historical Society.
LARGO – The author of several books on organized crime said there’s “a real possibility” that mobster Santo Trafficante Jr. was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Speaking to the Largo Area Historical Society May 10 at the Largo Cultural Center, Scott Deitche said in his second book, “The Silent Don,” he lays out what he thinks is some “pretty interesting circumstantial evidence.”
Trafficante, who was born in Tampa and was the son of Sicilian-born mobster Santo Trafficante Sr., was one of the last of the Mafia bosses in the United States. He allegedly controlled organized criminal operations in Florida and Cuba.
Deitche said he has been asked about the association between Trafficante and the Kennedy assassination.
“I don’t think you are ever going to find a smoking gun as to exactly was there a conspiracy or was there not a conspiracy,” he said.
He said Trafficante Jr. had a lot of interesting relationships with key CIA officials “as well as people that were implicated in attempting to kill the president” when he was here in Tampa shortly before he was killed in Dallas, he said.
“So there is a lot of real interest-
ing circumstantial evidence that points to some kind of involvement by Trafficante,” Deitche said, “either directly in the assassination or at least in some of the relationships surrounding some of the key players in many conspiracy theories.”
In 1959, Fidel Castro seized control of Cuba and kicked all the gangsters out. Trafficante Jr. was imprisoned in Havana in the summer and released after several weeks.
Trafficante was visited in prison by an employee and by a “gun runner and nightclub owner by the name of Jack Ruby,” Deitche said.
“He was running guns to Castro on behalf of the Chicago mob,” Deitche said.
After Trafficante was released from prison in Cuba, the CIA asked him in Miami to kill Castro, Deitche said.
“They gave him $100,000 to kill Castro, which Trafficante promptly put in his back pocket and told them oh, ‘we tried but couldn’t do it’ and walked away with $100,000. The CIA never pushed the issue,” Deitche said.
Deitche said Trafficante was “very cagey and very paranoid but it served him well.”
Though he was arrested several times on charges of bribery and running illegal lotteries in Ybor City, he never spent time in a jail in the United States.
Deitche said he met an agent who was trailing Trafficante and asked him why agents couldn’t get him.
The agent said he was hard to tail, because Trafficante would drive 45 mph down the highway, Deitche said.
“So the only way to tail him was to go even slower. It was painfully obvious that he was being tailed,” Deitche said.
In Miami, when Trafficante was being followed, a couple of times he would get in the agents’ car “and have them drive him on errands,” he said.
“It was a way to keep tabs on him,” Deitche said.
In the late 1960s, the FBI was following Eddie Trascher, who was running a “very sophisticated high-stakes gambling ring out of the East Bay Country Club here in Largo.”
“Eddie wasn’t a gangster,” he said. “Rather, he stole from the mob and casinos.”
When he started operating in Clearwater and Largo, he was busted by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
The FBI told Trascher that they were interested in Trafficante and the mob in Tampa. In Holiday, the FBI set up a gambling casino called “The King’s Court” and hired Trascher and others to run it.
They lured Trafficante and other mobsters into the casino.
“At the end of the day, they netted dozens of mobsters from Milwaukee, from New York, from New Jersey and Chicago – and yet not Trafficante. “
They indicted Trafficante, but at that time he was a “frail old man,” and they weren’t able to get enough evidence to go after him.
Trafficante died in Houston in 1987, where he had heart surgery, ending his reign of organized crime in Tampa. Deitche’s book, “Silent Don,” is about Trafficante.
His father, Santo Trafficante Sr., was a powerful gangster in Tampa in the 1940s, Deitche said.
While other gangs were shooting at each other, Trafficante Sr. stepped back and “hid in the shadows,” he said.
“So when things kind of calmed down in the mid 1940s, the Trafficante family was the dominant family in Tampa. Not only Tampa, the Trafficante family had ties to the New York Mafia,” he said.
Underworld activities are said to have been prevalent in Tampa in the early part of the 20th century. The city had gambling halls, brothels and establishments where illegal activities, such as numbers games, were run.
Charlie Wall was known as “the dean of the underworld.” In Ybor City he assembled a multiethnic crew of people and ran gambling and vice in Tampa in the early part of the 20th century, Deitche said.
“Official corruption became so bad in Tampa that Life Magazine in the 1930s called Tampa ‘the hellhole of the Gulf coast,’ ” Deitche said.
From 1928 to 1959, there were over 30 unsolved gangland killings in Tampa that officials know about, he said.
People wouldn’t just disappear, he said, the shootings often occurred during the middle of the day.
“They were very open; they were very blatant,” he said.
Since Trafficante Jr. died most of the organized crime in Tampa has been scattered. In the 1960s and 1970s, the FBI got more involved in organized crime. The most powerful tool was the RICO (Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations) Act, “which enabled the federal government to go after entire organizations,” Deitche said.
Deitche has written five books dealing in crime. Born and raised in New Jersey, Deitche said his mother loved gangster movies so he grew up watching them, raising his interest in mob activities.
He is an environmental scientist and lives in St. Petersburg.